The real beauty of making multiple trips to the same country is that you don’t have to rush to see everything. This was my client’s (let’s call him “Lemmy”), fourth trip to New Zealand. His first three times here were all based in the South Island, where I was lucky enough to meet him while working for Nomad Safaris. It’s nearly four years since his last visit and we were eager to visit some new places. Lemmy really wanted this to be a relaxing and recharging trip, after experiencing a tough couple of years. When we travel together, we usually improvise. Lemmy gives me an idea of where he wants to go and what he wants to do, and I find places to stay, get supplies and things to do. This time his flights were booked fairly last minute, and he arrived on the 3rd of January. I drove up from Wellington the day before and stayed at the excellent Jet Park Hotel, so I was fresh and ready to collect Lemmy from the arrivals area at Auckland International Airport.
We wanted to clear the city, get a few miles under our belt before evening and shorten our drive to Northland the next day. After crossing the Harbour Bridge, we stopped at Nosh Food Market in Mairangi Bay (right off the motorway), to get supplies for stage one of our adventure. For this trip, we were generally more interested in preparing our own meals than going out to restaurants.
We took the scenic Hibiscus Coast road before rejoining State Highway 1 to our destination for the night – One Tree Point Motel. This is a standard, basic two bedroom motel, but it was very tidy and well run. Since Lemmy had just finished a long flight from New York, it made sense to not invest money in fancy accommodation when he wasn’t really going to notice it anyway. That said, we were across the road from a pretty beach, and had great views across Whangarei Harbour from our front unit (the only one with this view).
The next morning we stopped to enjoy the beach at Bream Bay, before continuing North. At Kawakawa we turned left and stayed on SH1 to Pakaraka where we joined SH10 to Kaeo. Along the way we stopped at a few roadside fruit and vege stalls to collect some incredibly fresh produce, before arriving at our clifftop house at Tauranga Bay, by the entrance to Whangaroa Harbour. The property is called Rongotai (Hear the Sea) and it’s incredible. Visit their website to learn the story of this house (it’s better than me paraphrasing and repeating what’s already there). The highlights for us were the infinity pool, jacuzzi, and the incredible views out towards Stephenson Island. Rongotai is completely private, and you can still Hear the Sea from 200 metres up. We brought in our own supplies and cooked all our meals, took a few short trips to local beaches, and a longer road trip to Kaitaia on a very rainy day. The weather was so bad we skipped 90 Mile Beach, but there’s always next time!
While at Rongotai, we decided our next step would be to drive through the Bay of Islands and get a quick taste of the place. It was very busy, and premium accommodation was scarce so it made sense to save an in depth exploration for a later trip. We decided the same for the Coromandel Peninsula, which is always busy with domestic travellers during the summer school holidays. (It looks like we have the framework for Lemmy’s next trip!)
So we left our amazing house on the hill and drove south through the Bay of Islands as mentioned above, taking time for a pitstop back at Kawakawa. It sounds very odd, but the must do thing in Kawakawa is a visit to the public toilets! They are known as the Hundertwasser Toilets and are truly a work of art, designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser… We continued along SH1, stopping to resupply in Whangarei before arriving in Whangarei Heads. Our destination for the next three nights was another amazing house, this time a large and comfortable but modest place named Te Piringa. Given that Lemmy’s primary goal was to relax and recharge, this property turned out to be perfect. We were surrounded by native bush and actually in a Kiwi Zone so we could have reasonably expected to hear Kiwi wandering around at night. The views across the harbour were incredible, and funnily enough we were directly across the water from the motel we stayed in on the first night.
Again this area was a balance of relaxing with the view, enjoying the hot tub, cooking on the BBQ and doing some drives to swim at the local beaches. There was also an excellent little shopping centre 5 minutes away.
Towards the end of our stay at Te Piringa, it was time to plan our next move. We seriously considered locations on the Coromandel Peninsula, but the most appealing properties were unavailable. No problem, we’ll try them next time (possibly also Waiheke Island, which has dozens of stunning properties). For now we decided to head straight to the beach town of Mt Maunganui. With the New Year’s Eve crowd out of the way, this proved to be an excellent choice. A week earlier and we would have been overrun by the party crowd, if we could find a place at all! The apartment we found was directly across from a beautiful beach, and the Tay Street Beach Cafe was a short walk away. The owner met us at the property, gave us a quick tour and explained how everything worked. The highlight of this place was the way you could open all the huge doors and windows right up, and it even had a private courtyard in the middle of the apartment! It was important that this place be perfect (and it was, right down to the beer and wine already waiting in the fridge), as I was to leave Lemmy here.
After settling in and unpacking, we went into downtown Mt Maunganui and found a very good Thai restuarant amongst the dozens of choices. The next morning was my last of the tour, so after an excellent breakfast at the Tay Street Beach Cafe, I took Lemmy shopping for supplies for the rest of his stay. We got everything sorted and said our goodbyes. I drove back to Wellington that afternoon and Lemmy stayed on another four nights. He swam every day, took some surfing lessons and probably has shares in that cafe by now! The apartment was less than 10 minutes from the local airport, so Lemmy was able to take a taxi there, make his domestic connection to Auckland International Airport and returned home to NYC.
Another Successful Tour!
The purpose of this trip was pure R&R, and we were never going to do anything too crazy. Lemmy left feeling completely recharged and missed the worst of the bitterly cold storms that hit New York in his absence. Even though he was on a vacation, we had wifi and phone coverage everywhere we stayed so he was still able to check in with the office every morning. Not the best way to spend your time off, but this connection brought its own peace of mind, and the few dramas that did occur at home were easily dealt with before the morning swim. We saw some beautiful new places, made a list of promising spots to visit next time, and met some great new people along the way. All in all, a huge success!